Now that John Walsh has dropped his campaign to become elected to the U.S. Senate, we still have a chance to elect a real conservative this fall.
I don’t mean Steve Daines. Rep. Daines’ brief tenure in the U.S. House has offered abundant evidence that he is not really conservative at all.
I mean conservative in the traditional sense: deference to facts and tradition, caution about change, skepticism about radical ideas.
Let’s get to the particulars:
• Voting to shut down the government isn’t conservative. Rep. Daines voted with House Republicans last year against passing any budget that failed to get rid of Obamacare. The shutdown cost the economy billions while accomplishing nothing.
• Voting against raising the debt limit isn’t conservative. Rep. Daines voted to attach conditions to America’s willingness to pay its bills. Failing to raise the limit, a move unprecedented in U.S. history, could have had catastrophic consequences and made us a deadbeat nation.
• Signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge isn’t conservative. The pledge binds Rep. Daines to oppose any tax increases. Sounds good, but the pledge blocks much-needed tax reforms aimed at increasing fairness and efficiency.
For example, the pledge obligates Rep. Daines to oppose an increase in the federal gasoline tax, which we rely on to build and maintain highways. The tax, unadjusted for inflation, has remained unchanged since 1993. The founding fathers, who understood how important mail service and good roads would be in a sprawling new country, explicitly granted Congress the power to build post offices and roads. Overthrowing their wisdom isn’t conservative.
Rep. Daines also signed another pledge against any tax that would give government more revenues to deal with climate change. Climate change is likely to impose heavy costs on us all, and governments will be charged with fixing the damage. Rep. Daines’ pledge guarantees that those efforts will fail.
• And while we’re at it, denying climate change isn’t conservative. Rep. Daines has said in interviews that there is “considerable debate” over whether human activities contribute significantly to climate change. Actually, there isn’t. Rep. Daines is giving his ideological preferences more weight than actual evidence – something a genuine conservative would never do.
• Putting federal interests above state interests isn’t conservative. Rep. Daines favors one-size-fits-all federal control of logging over a Montana plan that was worked out between environmentalists, federal workers and timber interests. In this case, Washington does not know best.
• Teaching creationism and intelligent design in science classes isn’t conservative. Science belongs in science classes. Neither creationists nor backers of intelligent design have made a coherent case that their theories are good science. Rep. Daines should not pretend that they have.
• Ignoring constituent concerns isn’t conservative. When I raised concerns about the accuracy of a Daines campaign ad, no one on his campaign or office staff would respond to my questions. Since then, I have seen others report the same response. Will his Senate policy be to ignore those who raise questions he prefers not to answer?
• Abusing the filibuster isn’t conservative. The founders debated the merits of requiring congressional super majorities and decided against it, except in certain situations. The U.S. Senate has become a body in which almost every bill, no matter how innocuous, has to get at least 60 votes to pass. If Rep. Daines becomes part of that body, will he favor the founders over his own party? That, unfortunately, is a rhetorical question.
• Doubling down on failure isn’t conservative. President Obama’s favorability ratings have been in decline, but they remain far higher than the ratings of Congress, which are at numbers lower than any in polling history. And Republican ratings are even worse than Democrats’. Ask yourself: What has Rep. Daines done to fix that problem?
• Suing the president for failing to promptly enforce a law you don’t want him to enforce at all isn’t conservative. Constraining executive power is at the heart of representative government, and important questions can be raised about whether President Obama has stretched his powers too far.
But the grounds on which the House has sued the president – another act unprecedented in U.S. history – is a matter that (a.) Congress could quickly remedy by legislation, if it had the political will to do so; (b.) is unlikely to be settled in court before it becomes a moot point; and (c.) revolves exclusively around Republicans’ desire to make the Affordable Care Act fail. None of that is conservative.
Finally, it isn’t conservative to overturn a national consensus forged from the 1930s to the 1960s that stabilized financial markets, extended civil rights to millions of Americans, established a safety net for the least fortunate among us, built the strongest middle class in history and led to standards of freedom and prosperity never before seen on this planet.
In 2014 America, elections increasingly revolve around those who would preserve that consensus and those who would overturn it. Montana Democrats have a chance this weekend to put forward a candidate who would fight to preserve those values.
It would be the conservative thing to do.